Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Writing of Moronic Deletions

Earlier I wrote about MAD, the two-way deterrent when two superpowers have faced off and neither is willing to blink first. "Mutual assured destruction", while certainly insane from any civilian POV, is a bona fide and valid military strategy. It brought down the USSR... and the aftermath of its demise (there being only one superpower left for now, until China shows its military hand) may bring down the US.

I know, I know, hyperbole is rampant in this topic. I don't mean to hang cowbells around my neck and prance around like Chicken Little. I do mean to suggest that there is a simple solution to the weapons of mass destruction problem, and the US can lead the way, can be the global policeman it claims it wants to avoid, with really no additional expenditures and with a potential savings in the military and diplomatic budgets. Um, that last statement is about half facetious, by the way.

I'm talking about massively assured suicide, which I hereby designate MAS. Its mechanics are very simple. The US, even with its reduced arsenal from the Cold War heyday, is capable of laying waste entire cities and the square-mileage of most of the sovereign nations of the world, just with some simple computer-driven targeting adjustments. It's intelligence gathering is more sophisticated and more accurate than it's ever been, and simple vigilence is all that's necessary to implement the following policy:

Any nation on the planet is welcome to develop nuclear capability for peaceful applications. However, the moment it is determined that weapons-grade fission or fusion material is being mass-produced, the US goes on ready alert, and the moment a nuclear device is detonated -- for any reason, in any location -- the US will respond with the nuclear destruction of the launch site of the device. This includes the terroristic method of personal delivery of a small device. Once we track down the source -- no matter where it may be located -- that location will be dust in a cloud.

No negotiation. No hesitation. Verification of source, total destruction of source.

Imagine, if you will, a generic terrorist planner sitting in an apartment in Damascus. He has spent the last two years acquiring a "pony" nuke, a bomb designed to be delivered by a small, tactical rocket or missile, including the type needing only two people to use: one to hold it on a shoulder, the other to help aim and fire it. He has painstakingly researched how to hide the device from radiation scanners, ways of entering the US secretly, and how to detonate the device electronically from a safe distance. He has even made sure that it has a deadman switch, something made famous by suicide bombers. He smiles at the prospect of hurting the US dogs right where it hurts the most, in a manner from which they will not find it easy to recover. Then, an assistant runs in with the latest news: the US has announced, in no uncertain terms, that if they were to go through with their plans, the US would destroy Damascus.

Imagine, again, a small commitee in Teheran, meeting to decide the future of their country's domestic and strategic nuclear capability. There is no doubt in anyone's minds that nuclear-generated electricity is critical to the economic success of their country. There is now grave doubt about the creation and deployment of a nuclear arsenal, possible now only without any testing whatsoever (something their scientists have become worse than panicked about: how can they promise the devices won't destroy the users instead of the targets?). None of them can justify this weapon program that could, if used just once, assure the destruction of not just their capital, but also their religious domination of their culture.

Imagine, finally, a young man who knows in his heart that his only reason for being given a subsidized luxury apartment is so he and his family can serve as human shields for the terrorist cell in the same building. Imagine his feelings, upon learning of the US policy, and his own awareness that a pony nuke is very likely under construction just a few meters away. I don't know about you, but I see him doing one of two things: packing up and leaving for anywhere else, even if it means living in a ditch; finding a weapon and killing every member of that cell that he can before they kill him in return. I like to think that the building would be mostly empty of human shields when the US retaliation arrives. I would like even better the high-level moral response of killing the criminals who would uncaringly bring that retaliation upon them.

MAS is a pipe dream, no question or doubt about it. The citizens of the US do not understand how it would be possible, how it would work, the moral implications of such a policy or even whether our politicians as a group could actually be trusted to oversee such a program. After all, it cannot leave room for mistakes or any level of ambiguity. It must be left, tactically, day-to-day, in the hands of trained professionals whose training and profession are just completely outside the experiences of the bulk of the politicians.

But, damn. I would love to see the faces in Iran, North Korea, and around the hidden tables of Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. "They beat us to the punch," I can hear them saying. "They took a page from our playbooks, and did us one better."

Wouldn't that be something...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Belief and unbelief

The current homepage article for Beliefnet provides very brief bios of the "leading" figures in atheism and secular humanism in the US. Some of the details of these people's lives and activities got me to thinking.

In the rhetoric of the "culture war", the us vs. them definitions keep shifting, or the voices who have been loudest in expressing those definitions periodically go silent as they ponder a shift in their targeting. While my personal scope has been admittedly limited, there seems to be two major targets: atheists/secular humanists, and non-Christians -- but more often as a catch-all phrase, pagans.

Upon much thought, remembering where my head as been over my adult-life journeys, it is accurate to say that I am both. I reside in both target groups.

That I am Pagan is easy to describe. Heck, I'm literally a card-carrying Pagan. It is less intuitive to see me as a secular humanist, but I avow that my attitudes fit the mold rather closely. It is counter-intuitive to think of a self-described, devoutly spiritual person such as myself as an atheist, but this, too, is accurate in a basic sense: I reject completely all the notions that derive from anthropomorphism, the symbolic and emotional representation of deity in human form. I think about deity in such terms and I sling the lingo with my deistic siblings-in-faith, but I don't believe in deity in those terms at all. Unlike most atheists, I do have a replacement in my faith for the concept of deity.

That's a point that I've come to think about alot in recent years, that an atheist is not definitionally without spiritual depth or belief. Profound thinking is not the sole realm of spirituality, not by a long shot, and while profundity is most often associated with religious expression, it's long past time to expand people's awareness.

Through the voices of the characters in his book Contact, Carl Sagan promoted the notion that if we are truly alone in the universe, it would be a collosal waste of space. One does not need to believe or disbelieve in a God to understand and embrace that notion. There are many more such notions floating around. Perhaps it's time to grab a few and think about them.

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